The faithful referred to him as “The Light of the World.” He was born of a virgin who was referred to as “Mother of God,” he was part of a Holy Trinity, celibate throughout his life, extolled justice, renounced riches and sensual things, had twelve apostles and viewed life as a struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. He preached that there will be a Judgment Day at which time the dead will be resurrected, the earth will experience a final conflict between the forces of light and darkness and the present order will be destroyed. Thereafter, light will forever reign on earth. He preached that this duality continues in the afterlife in the form of Heaven and Hell. After he completed his earthly mission, he had a Last Supper with his twelve apostles and ascended to Heaven, after which his followers conducted ceremonies that included the drinking of wine and the eating of bread to symbolize his blood and flesh. Baptism was practiced as a ritual of purification. December 25th was celebrated annually as his birth and Sunday was the holy day of the week.
No, it isn’t Christianity, but Mithraism, the last pagan religion of the Roman Empire. It began in Persia in the 6th or 7th century BCE and eventually spread through India to China and throughout the Roman Empire. Relics of the Mithraic religion have been found in Britain, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia and throughout North Africa. It was the favorite religion of the Roman soldiers because it celebrated brotherly love and physical action in the name of justice and truth. It lasted a little over three hundred years and was then overtaken by Christianity, which didn’t hesitate in borrowing a few items along the way.
Christianity borrowed from many traditions. The virgin conception by a god was a very familiar theme in ancient religions. Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, and Achilles were all said to have had a god for a parent. Dionysus, son of Zeus, worshipped in Jerusalem during the 1st Century, was born of a virgin. Followers ate bread and drank wine to symbolize his blood and flesh, and his birthday was celebrated on December 25th. Oh yes, and a star shone above the site where he was born.
Attis, a Phrygian god from Asia Minor, was born on December 25th to a virgin mother, later was crucified at Easter and descended for three days into the underworld. He rose on Easter Sunday to save humanity from eternal damnation. His followers symbolize eating his flesh by eating bread on holy days.
Adonis, born of a virgin, was killed by a wild boar and resurrected.
In India, “Krishna the Savior,” not dissimilar in name to “Christ the Savior,” was born on December 25th when Vishnu sent a thought into the womb of the virgin Devaki as an act of conception.
Buddha was born of a virgin mother named Maya after she was visited by the “Holy Ghost.”
In Tibet, Indra was born of a virgin.
The prophet Zoroaster was also born of a virgin.
Osiris, Adonis, Balder, and Dionysus all died and were resurrected.
Some scholars may dispute a few of the details listed above, but the overwhelming evidence is that Christianity borrowed many of its ideas, mythological themes and even dates (December 25th, Easter) from previous religions.
So what are we to make of all this? In view of all these borrowed items, should Christianity be treated any differently than some of the “pagan” religions listed above? These religions may be viewed as all being part of one religious tradition, with minor variations on similar themes that were blended together, much like writers borrow from previous authors to produce a new work of fiction with changes of characters and some added twists.
Perhaps we need a rethinking of our concept of God that breaks away from these old and stale traditions, with their old and tired myths and imagery. To my mind, God needs a more modern conceptualization. But whatever face we give Him, we must keep in mind that we are the ones giving it to Him, as we have since time immemorial. Despite what our mythological history says, He has never actually appeared to tell us anything about Himself, as I'm sure He can if He so wishes.
Just because our concepts of God are imperfect, to say the least, says nothing about whether He exists or not. This is an important distinction because we often see atheists punch holes in traditional religious dogma and then conclude that God is a fiction. This is an error in logic. Our concepts of God have nothing to do with whether He exists or not. He is independent of what we think we know of Him. What is pushing some to atheism is our old and tired concepts. What is needed is not an atheistic view of life, but an elevated one, taking into account newer concepts of an eternal consciousness as a vital force envisioned by some of our most progressive quantum physicists.